Election 2017

General election: Conservatives pledge above-inflation defence rises

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Media captionSir Michael Fallon tells Today the 'defence budget will grow every year'

The Conservatives would increase defence spending by 0.5% more than inflation every year if they win the election, Theresa May has said.

Mrs May said her party would also continue to meet the pledge to spend at least 2% of national income on defence.

But ex-Joint Forces Command chief Sir Richard Barrons said Britain's armed forces were "not good enough" to deal with emerging risks and terror threats.

And Labour accused the Conservatives of "hypocrisy on defence" spending.

The Conservatives' pledge came after Sir Richard and other senior military figures wrote an open letter to the prime minister calling for more funding for Britain's armed forces.

The signatories warned that the services were having to make "damaging savings" at a time when the likelihood of combat operations was increasing.

New aircraft carriers

And Sir Richard added: "Our armed forces - and indeed, those of our Nato allies - are not big enough, resilient enough, good enough, don't have enough capability, to deal with the sorts of risks and threats that are emerging in the world as it's turning out today."

Conservative Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon replied to Sir Richard's complaint, telling BBC Radio 4's Today: "I don't think you'll find a single former service chief who doesn't want more spent on defence.

"He's passionate about defence and so am I, which is why the defence budget is growing and that's why we're investing now."

Sir Michael said the government was investing in two new aircraft carriers, purchased eight F35 aircraft, had started building new frigates, armoured vehicles for the army and maritime patrol aircraft for the RAF.

He said the UK was one of only four countries in the world building aircraft carriers and was currently building two of them.

"The first Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier will be out on sea trials in a few weeks time - so we're adding to our defence - and we're adding to the equipment our armed forces need and the budget will increase every single year," he said.

Political reaction

He said Royal Navy destroyers and frigates were in the Gulf protecting the American aircraft carrier that is "leading the fight against Daesh terrorism". "You certainly need aircraft carriers in an uncertain world," he said.

He also criticised Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, saying: "He's essentially a pacifist and would be a very dangerous leader, I think, of our country. If he was ever put in charge of our defences. If you've got armed forces, you've got to be prepared to use them."

But shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith said Labour was committed to the 2% target and added: "The Tories' hypocrisy on defence knows no bounds. Their cuts have left our forces more under-resourced and underpaid than at any time in the modern era.

"The severe cuts imposed on the defence budget since 2010 have seen the Army shrink to 78,000, its smallest size since the Napoleonic Wars and far short of the last Tory manifesto pledge to keep it above 82,000."

Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown, who is also a former Royal Marine, said: "This Conservative government has slashed funding on defence, cut our Royal Marines and left our troops on the front line without basic equipment."